A VITAL mercy mission in Africa involving volunteers from Huddersfield is now under way.
Teams of people are in Tanzania to help refurbish a hospital on the island of Ukerewe, the largest island in Lake Victoria.
At about 200 square miles, Ukerewe is about three-quarters the size of the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.
Ukerewe’s 160-bed hospital provides maternity, paediatric and general surgical care, but its operating theatre and labour ward are poorly-equipped and in a state of complete disrepair.
Now, however, hospital equipment worth hundreds of thousands of pounds has arrived in the area and work has started.
Huddersfield couple John and Chris Philip, of Fixby, organised the mercy mission and they have been joined by a team of volunteers, led by Huddersfield hospital engineer John Ennis.
The workers flew out several days ago but there was an anxious wait until the container loaded with the medical equipment arrived.
Mr Philip, a retired consultant, said: “I saw the ferry as a blot on the blue sky. My heart missed a beat. As it drew closer and closer I experienced an unexplainable mixture of emotions.
“After the passengers disembarked a huge truck with a 40-foot container slowly came off the ferry.
“This was the container I helped pack in Huddersfield three months ago with life-saving equipment for the neglected people of Ukerewe. I embraced the driver and nearly wept.
“The ferry left the UK on time and arrived in Dar Es Salaam on schedule. It got caught up in a quagmire of bureaucratic procedures and was stuck in the port, causing me great anxiety as my team of 24 Rotary volunteers were ready.
“Chris and I flew to Mwanza – the nearest mainland town to Ukerewe – to see whether we could get the lorry released.
“As a last resort, I flew to Dar and got the container released in 48 hours and arranged for it to be brought to Mwanza, a 24-hour journey.”
The volunteers have been working hard to strip out the operating theatre repair, paint and make the area clean. It has been an amazing experience. What we do here will save live
Mr Ennis, engineering officer at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, has been appointed as project manager and will oversee the refurbishment of the maternity ward and operating theatre.
He said: “It will be a lot of work. But having witnessed first-hand the terrible conditions in these hospitals and clinics, if we can do something to improve the working practices and the environment for the staff and patients and save at least one life it will be worth all the effort.”
John and his team from Rotary International have three weeks to complete the refurbishment.
John, of Outlane, was asked to take part because of his previous charity work.
In 2007, he took part in the 4,500-mile Bamoko Run across Africa for charity in a 100-year-old banger.
The cash he raised went to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Bamoko in Mali.
Now he is working with Mr Philip, who said: “It has been an amazing experience. What we do here will save lives.”